Sources: I wrote this chapter based largely on Wikipedia articles (Late Bronze Age collapse and Greek Dark Ages). The information on epidemics comes from the article: How Disease Affected the End of the Bronze Age. For those interested in this topic, I can recommend a video lecture: 1177 B.C.: When Civilization Collapsed | Eric Cline.
In the few centuries preceding the Plague of Athens, there were very few known cataclysms. There were no major volcanic eruptions, no major earthquakes, and no significant epidemics. The previous massive global cataclysm happened only around the 12th century BC, that is again about 7 centuries earlier. At that time, there was a sudden and profound collapse of civilization that marked the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age. The period after the collapse is called the Greek „Dark Ages” (ca 1100–750 BC), because it is characterized by a very scarce sources, both written and archeological, as well as impoverishment of material culture and depopulation.
The Late Bronze Age collapse afflicted a large area covering much of Southeast Europe, West Asia, and North Africa. Historians believe that the societal collapse was violent, sudden, and culturally disruptive. It was characterized by great upheavals and mass movements of people. Fewer and smaller settlements after the collapse suggest famine and major depopulation. Within 40–50 years, almost every significant city in the eastern Mediterranean was destroyed, many of them never to be inhabited again. Ancient trade networks were disrupted and came to a grinding halt. The world of organized state armies, kings, officials, and redistributive systems disappeared. The Hittite Empire of Anatolia and the Levant collapsed, while states such as the Middle Assyrian Empire in Mesopotamia and the New Kingdom of Egypt survived but were considerably weakened. The collapse led to a transition to the „dark ages”, that lasted for about three hundred years.
Theories for the cause of the Late Bronze Age collapse include volcanic eruptions, droughts, invasions by the Sea Peoples or migrations of the Dorians, economic disruptions due to the increasing use of iron metallurgy, changes in military technology including the decline of chariot warfare, as well as a variety of failures of political, social, and economic systems.
The period of Greek history from the end of the Mycenaean palatial civilization around 1100 BC to the beginning of the Archaic age around 750 BC is called the Greek „Dark Ages„. Archeology suggests that around 1100 BC the highly organized culture of Mycenaean Greece, the Aegean region, and Anatolia disintegrated, and transformed into cultures of small, isolated villages. By 1050 BC, the population had decreased significantly, and up to 90% of small settlements in the Peloponnese were abandoned. Such was the magnitude of the disaster that the ancient Greeks have lost their ability to write, which they had to re-learn from the Phoenicians in the 8th century.
Only a few powerful states survived the Bronze Age collapse, notably Assyria, the New Kingdom of Egypt (albeit badly weakened), the Phoenician city-states, and Elam. However, by the end of the 12th century BC, Elam waned after its defeat by Nebuchadnezzar I, who briefly revived Babylonian fate before suffering a series of defeats by the Assyrians. Upon the death of Ashur-bel-kala in 1056 BC, Assyria went into a decline for the next 100 or so years, and its empire shrank significantly. By 1020 BC, Assyria appears to have controlled only the territories in its immediate vicinity. The period from 1070 BC to 664 BC is known as the „Third Intermediate Period” of Egypt, during which time Egypt was run over and ruled by foreign rulers, and there was political and social disintegration and chaos. Egypt was increasingly beset by a series of droughts, below-normal flooding of the Nile, and famines. Historian Robert Drews describes the collapse as „the worst disaster in ancient history, even more calamitous than the collapse of the Western Roman Empire”. Cultural memories of the disaster told of a „lost golden age”. For example, Hesiod spoke of Ages of Gold, Silver, and Bronze, separated from the cruel modern Age of Iron by the Age of Heroes.
At the end of the Bronze Age there is some kind of calamity and pretty much everything gets destroyed. Everything that was good suddenly disappears, as if someone just snapped their fingers. Why did everything collapse so suddenly? The invasion of the Sea Peoples were usually blamed for it, but historian and archeologist Eric Cline states that they were not actually invaders. We shouldn’t call them like that, because they are coming with their possessions; they are coming with ox carts; they are coming with wives and children. This is not an invasion, but a migration. The Sea People were as much oppressors as they were victims. They were given a bad name. Yes, they were there, they did some damage, but they actually had a problem themselves. So what else could have caused the collapse of the civilization? Various explanations for the collapse have been proposed, many of them mutually compatible. Probably several factors played a role, including climatic changes such as drought or cooling caused by volcanic eruptions, as well as earthquakes and famines. There was no single cause, but they all occurred simultaneously. It was a perfect storm.
Prof. Kaniewski took samples from dried-up lagoons and lakes from the north coast of Syria and analyzed the plant pollen found there. He noted that the vegetation cover had changed, indicating the prolonged dry weather. The study shows that the mega-drought lasted from about 1200 BC to the 9th century BC, so it lasted for about 300 years.
During this time, the area of forests around the Mediterranean has decreased. Scientists state that this was caused by drought and not by clearing of land for agricultural purposes.
In the Dead Sea region (Israel and Jordan), groundwater levels dropped by more than 50 meters. According to the geography of this region, for the water levels to have dropped so drastically, the amount of rainfall in the surrounding mountains must have been miserably low.
Scientists suspect that crop failure, famine and the population reduction resulting from the poor flooding of the Nile, as well as the migration of the Sea Peoples, led to the political instability of the New Kingdom of Egypt at the end of the Late Bronze Age.
In 2012, it was suggested that the Late Bronze Age collapse was associated with the diversion of midwinter storms from the Atlantic to the area north of the Pyrenees and the Alps, bringing wetter conditions to Central Europe but drought to the region of the Eastern Mediterranean.
If we overlay a map of the archeological sites destroyed in this civilization collapse with a map of active seismic zones, we can see that most of the places overlap. The most compelling evidence for the earthquake hypothesis is also the most gruesome: archeologists find crushed skeletons trapped under collapsed rubble. The positions of the bodies indicate that these people were struck by a sudden and heavy load. The amount of debris found in adjacent areas suggests that similar incidents were frequent at the time.
It is not difficult to imagine how earthquakes could have caused the collapse of ancient societies. Given their limited technology, it would have been difficult for societies to rebuild their magnificent temples and houses. In the wake of such a catastrophe, skills like reading and writing may have disappeared as people became preoccupied with more important activities such as survival. It must have taken many years to recover from such a disaster.
Volcano or asteroid
Egyptian accounts tell us that something in the air prevented much sunlight from reaching the earth. Global tree growth has been arrested for nearly two decades, as we can infer from a sequence of extremely narrow tree rings in Irish bog oaks. This cooling period, which lasted from 1159 BC to 1141 BC, stands out clearly in the 7,272-year dendrochronological record.(ref.) This anomaly is also detectable in the bristlecone pine sequence and Greenland ice cores. It is attributed to the eruption of the Hekla volcano in Iceland.
The period of decreased temperature lasted as long as 18 years. It was thus twice as long as the period of cooling during the Justinianic Plague. So the reset in the Late Bronze Age may have been more severe than any reset in the last 3,000 years! According to scientists, the cause of the climatic shock was the eruption of the Hekla volcano. However, it is worth noting that while the Hekla volcano did indeed erupt at that time, the magnitude of the eruption is estimated to be only VEI-5. It ejected only 7 km³ of volcanic rock into the atmosphere. Volcanic eruptions capable of significantly affecting the climate leave behind a large caldera with a diameter of several kilometers or more. The Hekla volcano is much smaller and does not look like a supervolcano. In my opinion, this volcano could not have caused the climate shock. So we come to a situation similar to that of the Justinianic Plague: we have a severe climatic shock, but we do not have a volcano that could cause it. This leads me to conclude that the cause of the anomaly was the impact of a large asteroid.
Eric Watson-Williams wrote an article about the end of the Bronze Age titled „The End of an Epoch” in which he championed bubonic plague as the sole cause for the catastrophe. „What seems so puzzling is the reason why these apparently strong and prosperous kingdoms should disintegrate”, he questioned. As reasons for his choice of bubonic plague he cites: abandonment of cities; the adoption of the practice of cremating the dead instead of the usual burial because so many people were dying and it was necessary to quickly destroy the decomposing bodies; as well as the fact that bubonic plague is very deadly, kills animals and birds as well as people, affects large areas, spreads rapidly, and lingers for many years. The author provides no physical evidence, but compares things to how they were during later bubonic plague epidemics.
Lars Walloe from the University of Oslo had a similar view when he wrote his article, „Was the disruption of the Mycenaean world caused by repeated epidemics of bubonic plague?” He noted the „large movements of population”; „The population decreased in successive steps during the first two or three epidemics of plague down to perhaps half or one-third of its pre-plague level”; and that there was „a substantial reduction in agricultural production”. This could have caused famine and abandonment of settlements. He thus concluded that bubonic plague was responsible for all these observations, rather than other infectious diseases such as anthrax.
Plagues of Egypt
Interesting information about the events of this period can be found in the Bible. One of the most famous biblical stories is the one about the Plagues of Egypt. In the Book of Exodus, the Plagues of Egypt are 10 calamities inflicted on Egypt by the God of Israel in order to compel Pharaoh to release the Israelites from captivity. These catastrophic events were to occur more than a thousand years before Christ. The Bible describes 10 successive catastrophes:
- Turning of the Nile waters to blood – The river gave off a fetid odor, and the fish died out;
- Plague of frogs – Amphibians came out of the Nile en masse and entered homes;
- Plague of mosquitoes – Great swarms of insects tormented the people;
- Plague of flies;
- Pestilence of livestock – It caused mass death of horses, donkeys, camels, cattle, sheep and goats;
- Pestilence of festering boils broke out among people and animals;
- Thunderstorm of hail and lightning – Great hail was killing people and livestock; „Lightning flashed back and forth”; „It was the worst storm in all the land of Egypt since it had become a nation”;
- Plague of locusts – A plague as great as neither fathers nor forefathers have ever seen from the day they settled in Egypt;
- Darkness for three days – „No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days”; It threatened more harm than it actually inflicted;
- Death of all firstborn sons and all firstborn cattle;
The cataclysms described in the Book of Exodus are strikingly similar to those that occur during resets. Arguably, it was a global cataclysm that inspired the story about Plagues of Egypt. The Bible says that the waters of the Nile turned into blood. A similar phenomenon occurred in the period of the Justinianic Plague. One of the chroniclers wrote that a certain spring of water turned into blood. I think that this may have been caused by the release of chemicals from the depths of the earth into the water. For example, water rich in iron turns red and looks like blood.(ref.) Among the Plagues of Egypt, the Bible also mentions epidemics among animals and people, extremely intense thunderstorms with hail of great size, and a plague of locusts. All these phenomena also occurred during other resets. Other scourges can also be easily explained. The poisoning of the river may have prompted amphibians to flee the waters en masse, resulting in the plague of frogs. The cause of the plague of insects could be the extinction of the frogs (their natural enemies), which probably did not survive long outside the water.
It is somewhat more difficult to explain the cause of the three days of darkness, but also this phenomenon is known from other resets. Michael the Syrian wrote that something like that occurred during the period of the Justinianic Plague, although the exact year of this event is uncertain: „A pitch dark occurred so that people could not find their way when they left church. Torches were lit up and the darkness continued for three hours. This phenomenon recurred in April for three days, but the darkness was not as dense as the one, that took place in February.”(ref.) Also a chronicler of the time of the Plague of Cyprian mentioned the darkness for many days, and during the Black Death strange dark clouds were observed that brought no rain. I think that the mysterious darkness may have been caused by some dust or gases released from underground, that mixed with the clouds and obscured the sunlight. A similar phenomenon was observed in Siberia a few years ago when fumes from great forest fires have blocked out the sun. Witnesses reported that it became as dark as night for several hours during the day.(ref.)
The last of the Egyptian plagues – the death of the firstborn – may be a memory of the second wave of plague, which kills mainly children. This was also the case with other great plague pandemics. Of course, the plague never affects only the firstborn. I think that such information was added to this story to make it more dramatic (in those days firstborn children were valued more). The Book of Exodus was written several centuries after the events it describes. In the meantime, the memories of the disasters have already turned into legends.
One of the Plagues of Egypt was the pestilence of festering boils. Such symptoms mach the plague disease, although they do not clearly indicate that it was this very disease. There is one more reference to this epidemic in the Bible. After the Israelites left Egypt, they camped in the desert and there was an epidemic in their camp.
The Lord said to Moses, „Command the Israelites to send away from the camp anyone who has a defiling skin disease or a discharge of any kind, or who is ceremonially unclean because of a dead body. Send away male and female alike; send them outside the camp so they will not defile their camp, where I dwell among them.” The Israelites did so; they sent them outside the camp. They did just as the Lord had instructed Moses.
The Bible (NIV), Numbers, 5:1–4
The sick were forced to leave the camp, probably because of the high infectivity of the disease. And this only supports the thesis that it could have been the plague disease.
The Bible not only lists the calamities, but also gives the exact year of these events. According to the Bible, the Plagues of Egypt and the exodus of the Israelites occurred 430 years after the Israelites arrived in Egypt. The passage of times prior to the exodus is measured by adding the ages of the patriarchs at the birth of their firstborn sons. By adding up all these periods, Bible scholars calculated that the Plagues of Egypt occurred exactly 2666 years after the creation of the world.(ref., ref.) The calendar that counts time since the creation of the world is the Hebrew calendar. Around 160 AD Rabbi Jose ben Halafta calculated the year of the creation based on information from the Bible. According to his calculation, the first man – Adam – was created in the year 3760 BC.(ref.) And because the year 3760 BC was the 1st year since the creation, the 2666th year was 1095 BC. And this is the year that the Bible gives as the year of the Plagues of Egypt.
Dating of the event
There are various dates for the beginning of the Late Bronze age collapse. Archeology suggests that the Greek „Dark Ages„ began suddenly around 1100 BC. The Bible places the Plagues of Egypt in 1095 BC. And according to dendrochronologist Mike Baillie, the examination of tree-ring growth reveal a major worldwide environmental shock that started in 1159 BC. Some Egyptologists accept this date for the collapse, blaming it for the famines under Ramesses III.(ref.) Other scholars stay out of this dispute, preferring the neutral and vague phrase „3000 years before present”.
Due to the paucity of historical sources, the chronology of the Bronze Age (i.e., from about 3300 BC onward) is very uncertain. It is possible to establish a relative chronology for this era (i.e., how many years passed between certain events), but the problem is to establish an absolute chronology (i.e., exact dates). With the rise of the Neo-Assyrian Empire around 900 BC, written records become more numerous, making it possible to establish relatively secure absolute dates. There are several alternative chronologies for the Bronze Age: long, middle, short, and ultra-short. For example, the fall of Babylon is dated to the year 1595 BC, according to the middle chronology. By the short chronology, it is 1531 BC, because the entire short chronology is shifted by +64 years. By the long chronology, the same event is dated to 1651 BC (a shift of -56 years). Historians most often use the medium chronology.
The dating of the collapse of civilization varies, but the year proposed by the dendrochronologists seems to be the most reliable. The examination of tree rings indicates that a powerful climatic shock occurred in 1159 BC. It should be remembered, however, that it has not yet been possible to assemble a continuous dendrochronological calendar for the ancient Near East.(ref.) Only a floating chronology based on trees from Anatolia has been developed for the Bronze and Iron Ages. Until a continuous sequence is developed, the usefulness of dendrochronology in improving the chronology of the ancient Near East is limited. Dendrochronology must therefore rely on chronologies developed by historians, and there are several of these, each providing different dates.
Let’s take a closer look at where the year 1159 B.C., proposed by dendrochronologists as the year of the catastrophe, comes from. Mike Baillie, a renowned authority on tree rings and their use in dating ancient artifacts and events, helped complete a global record of annual growth patterns that stretches 7,272 years into the past. The tree-ring record revealed major worldwide environmental traumas in the following years:
from 536 to 545 AD,
from 208 to 204 BC,
from 1159 to 1141 BC,(ref.)
from 1628 to 1623 BC,
from 2354 to 2345 BC,
from 3197 to 3190 BC,(ref.)
from 4370 BC for about 20 years.(ref.)
Let’s try to guess what were the causes of all these climatic shocks.
536 AD – An asteroid impact during the Justinianic Plague; incorrectly dated; it should be 674 AD.
208 BC – The shortest of these, only a 4-year period of anomalies. A possible cause is the volcanic eruption of Raoul Island with the magnitude of VEI-6 (28.8 km³), dated by the radiocarbon method to 250±75 BC.
Let’s now look at three events from the Bronze Age:
1159 BC – The Late Bronze Age collapse; according to scientists, associated with the eruption of the Hekla volcano.
1628 BC – The Minoan eruption; a major catastrophic volcanic eruption that devastated the Greek island of Thera (also known as Santorini) and ejected 100 km³ of tephra.
2354 BC – The only eruption that matches here in time and size is the eruption of the Argentinian volcano Cerro Blanco, dated by the radiocarbon method to 2300±160 BC; more than 170 km³ of tephra were ejected.
The dendrochronological calendar is based on the middle chronology, which is the most commonly used, but is it the most correct? To determine this, we will use the findings from the first chapter, where I showed that major volcanic eruptions occur most frequently during the 2-year period of cataclysms, which reoccurs every 52 years. Note that there are 469 years between the eruption of Hekla and the eruption of Thera, or 9 periods of 52 years plus 1 year. And between the eruption of Hekla and the eruption of Cerro Blanco there are 1195 years, or 23 periods of 52 years minus 1 year. So it is clear that these volcanoes erupted in accordance with the 52-year cycle! I have compiled a list of the years in which the periods of cataclysms have occurred over the past several thousand years. It will help us determine the true years of these three great volcanic eruptions. Negative numbers mean years before the Common Era.
The long chronology is 56 years earlier than the middle chronology. And the short chronology is 64 years later than the middle chronology. What if we moved all three volcanic eruptions forward 64 years to make it consistent with the short chronology? I think it would not hurt to see what comes out of it...
Hekla: -1159 + 64 = -1095
If we shift the year of the climatic shock by 64 years, it falls exactly in 1095 BC, and this is the year when the cyclical period of cataclysms should occur!
Thera: -1628 + 64 = -1564
The year of the Minoan eruption shifted by 64 years also coincides with the 2-year period of cataclysms, which was in 1563±1 BC! This shows that the idea of using the short chronology was right! The year of the eruption of the Santorini volcano was a great mystery to historians for years. Now the mystery has been solved! The correct chronology for the Bronze Age is the short chronology! Let’s check if the next eruption proves the correctness of this thesis.
Cerro Blanco: -2354 + 64 = -2290
We also shift the eruption of Cerro Blanco by 64 years, and the year 2290 BC comes out, which again is exactly the year of the expected cataclysms!
After applying the correct chronology, it turns out that all three great volcanoes erupted during the period of cataclysms, which occur every 52 years! This confirms that this cycle exists and was working properly over 4,000 years ago! And most importantly, we have confirmation that the correct chronology is the short chronology. All dates of the Bronze Age should therefore be moved 64 years into the future. And this leads us to the conclusion that the Late Bronze Age collapse began exactly in 1095 BC. This year of the collapse is extremely close to the beginning of the Greek „Dark Ages„, which is dated to about 1100 BC. And interestingly enough, the Bible dates the Plagues of Egypt to exactly the year 1095 BC! In this case, the Bible proves to be a more reliable source than history!
We already know that the Late Bronze Age collapse took place in 1095 BC. If we assume that the Peloponnesian War began in 419 BC, and that the Plague of Athens began around the same time, we find that exactly 676 years passed between these two resets!
Let’s deal with the other two climatic shocks that left their mark on the dendrochronological calendar:
3197 BC – This year also has to be moved 64 years into the future:
3197 BC + 64 = 3133 BC
There is no known volcanic eruption that would fit into this year. In the following part of the study, I will try to find out what happened here.
4370 BC – This was most likely the eruption of the Kikai Caldera volcano (Japan), dated by ice cores to 4350 BC. It ejected about 150 km³ of volcanic material.(ref.) The alternative chronologies (e.g., middle, short, and long) relate to the Bronze Age, and 4370 BC is the Stone Age. This is the period prior to the invention of writing, and dating during this period is based on evidence other than written evidence. I think that moving the year of the eruption by 64 years is not necessary here, and 4370 BC is the correct year of this volcanic eruption. The nearest period of cataclysms in the 52-year cycle was 4369±1 BC, so it turns out that the eruption of the Kikai Caldera volcano was also associated with the 52-year cycle. The dendrochronological calendar is assembled of many different wood samples, and the dendrochronologists have had difficulty finding samples dating back to around 4000 BC (as well as from the centuries: 1st BC, 2nd BC, and 10th BC).(ref.) Therefore, I think that the dendrochronological calendar may be incorrectly assembled around 4000 BC; the faulty chronology shift occurs only in one part of the calendar, and another part of it indicates the correct years.
The creation myth engraved on the Aztec Sun Stone, tells of past eras, each of which ended in a great cataclysm, that usually occurred evenly every 676 years. Intrigued by the mystery of this number, I decided to check whether great global cataclysms do really happen cyclically, at regular intervals. I found the five greatest disasters that have befallen mankind in the past three millennia or so, and determined their exact years.
Black Death – 1347–1349 AD (by the years in which earthquakes occurred)
Plague of Justinian – 672–674 AD (by the years in which earthquakes occurred)
Plague of Cyprian – ca 254 AD (based on Orosius’s dating)
Plague of Athens – ca 419 BC (based on Orosius’s dating and assuming that outside of Athens the plague began a year earlier)
Late Bronze Age collapse – 1095 BC
It turns out that exactly thirteen 52-year cycles, lasting nearly 676 years, passed between the two great pandemics of the plague, that is from the Black Death to the Justinianic Plague! Another great extermination – the Plague of Cyprian – began about 418 years (about 8 cycles) earlier. Another similar epidemic – the Plague of Athens – broke out about another 672 years earlier. And the next great reset of civilization that ended the Bronze Age happened again exactly 676 years earlier! Thus, it is clear that three of the four periods mentioned do indeed coincide with the number given in the Aztec legend!
This conclusion raises the question: Is it the case that the Aztecs simply recorded in their myth a history of cataclysms that happened once, but does not necessarily repeat itself? Or perhaps there is a cycle of cataclysms that devastate the Earth every 676 years, and we should expect another doom as early as 2023–2025? In the next chapter, I will introduce my theory, that will explain all of this.